#Climate groups urge #Colorado to ‘correct course’ on emissions progress: State officials developing ‘roadmap 2.0’ as projections show state at risk of missing 2025 target — Colorado Newsline

A layer of smog covers the skyline of Denver. (Courtesy of EcoFlight)

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (Chase Woodruff):

Environmental groups on Thursday [October 20, 2022] reiterated their longstanding calls for Colorado to “go further, faster” to combat climate change, as state officials promised to develop an updated plan for emissions reductions.

In a letter to members of the Air Quality Control Commission, representatives of a dozen major conservation and climate-action groups wrote that time is running out for the state to “correct course on our emission reduction goals.”

“All analyses performed both by the state and third parties come to the same conclusion: policies currently in place and regulations on-the-books are failing to drive down climate pollution at the pace and scale required by Colorado law,” said the letter, signed by advocates from the Environmental Defense Fund, Conservation Colorado, 350 Colorado and other organizations.

The letter followed a progress report presented to the AQCC last month that showed Colorado isn’t on pace to meet a 2025 deadline to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26% below 2005 levels. The target was set by House Bill 19-1261, a landmark climate-action bill passed by the state Legislature in 2019.

Two of Colorado’s top climate officials returned to the commission Thursday to lay out the next steps as the state tries to get back on track. Clay Clarke, head of the climate change unit in the state’s Air Pollution Control Division, acknowledged the state is falling short of its goals, especially when it comes to transportation.

“Emissions from the transportation sector, based on actual fuel sales last year, were higher than initially projected, indicating additional strategies necessary to achieve the sector’s 2025 emissions targets,” Clarke said.

In the long run, state officials remain confident that the wide-ranging, flexible approach they laid out in a 2021 emissions “roadmap” will result in the necessary reductions, including a 50% statewide cut by 2030. That’s especially the case following the passage of the federal Inflation Reduction Act and the billions in clean-energy funding the state is expected to reap from the new law over the next decade.

“We’re going to have significantly more resources to further lean in on climate action,” said Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office.

Toor’s office has begun development of what it calls “roadmap 2.0,” which will incorporate the projected impacts of the new funding and other changes. The updated roadmap is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.

“None of this means our work is done,” Toor said. “We need to keep going and go faster. But we’re going to need to carry forward in a thoughtful, holistic way.”

Officials will give another update on the new roadmap’s development to the AQCC in January.

That’s unlikely to assuage environmental advocates, who are urging the commission to use the next three months to identify near-term regulatory actions that could close the “glaring gap” between projected emissions and the 2025 goal.

“With Colorado’s 2025 climate goal less than two and a half years away, the commission has limited time to enact regulations to close the emissions gap,” advocates wrote.

But Elise Jones, an AQCC commissioner and director of the Boulder-based Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, said the roadmap update was a positive step.

“I think we have a process to get to a plan,” Jones said. “I am sympathetic to the fact that the 2025 target is still quite in question, and unlikely to be met.”

Leaf charging in Frisco September 30, 2021.

Article: Mega-disturbances cause rapid decline of mature conifer forest habitat in #California — Ecological Society of America

Crescent Meadow Sequoia National Park August 4, 2022.

Click the link to access the article on the Ecological Society of America website (Zachary L. Steel, Gavin M. Jones, Brandon M. Collins, Rebecca Green, Alexander Koltunov, Kathryn L. Purcell, Sarah C. Sawyer, Michèle R. Slaton, Scott L. Stephens, Peter Stine, Craig Thompson). Here’s the abstract:

Mature forests provide important wildlife habitat and support critical ecosystem functions globally. Within the dry conifer forests of the western United States, past management and fire exclusion have contributed to forest conditions susceptible to increasingly severe wildfire and drought. We evaluated declines in conifer forest cover in the southern Sierra Nevada of California during a decade of record disturbance by using spatially comprehensive forest structure estimates, wildfire perimeter data, and the eDaRT forest disturbance tracking algorithm. Primarily due to the combination of wildfires, drought, and drought-associated beetle epidemics, 30% of the region’s conifer forest extent transitioned to non-forest vegetation during 2011-2020. Fifty percent of mature forest habitat and 85% of high density mature forests either transitioned to lower density forest or non-forest vegetation types. California spotted owl Protected Activity Centers (PAC) experienced greater canopy cover decline (49% of 2011 cover) than non-PAC areas (42% decline). Areas with high initial canopy cover and without tall trees were most vulnerable to canopy cover declines, likely explaining the disproportionate declines of mature forest habitat and within PACs. Drought and beetle attack caused greater cumulative declines than areas where drought and wildfire mortality overlapped, and both types of natural disturbance far outpaced declines attributable to mechanical activities. Drought mortality that disproportionately affects large conifers is particularly problematic to mature forest specialist species reliant on large trees. However, patches of degraded forests within wildfire perimeters were larger with greater core area than those outside burned areas, and remnant forest habitats were more fragmented within burned perimeters than those affected by drought and beetle mortality alone. The percent of mature forest that survived and potentially benefited from lower severity wildfire increased over time as the total extent of mature forest declined. These areas provide some opportunity for improved resilience to future disturbances, but strategic management interventions are likely also necessary to mitigate worsening mega-disturbances. Remaining dry mature forest habitat in California may be susceptible to complete loss in the coming decades without a rapid transition from a conservation paradigm that attempts to maintain static conditions to one that manages for sustainable disturbance dynamics.

Mixed water year not wet enough to remedy ‘dire’ supply issues — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

North face of Pike’s Peak as seen in profile from Conifer mountain. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

Click the link to read the article on The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Dennis Webb). Here’s an excerpt:

Dave Kanzer, director of science and interstate matters for western Colorado’s Colorado River District, told the district’s board at its recent meeting that the recently concluded water year was an average one overall, but was punctuated by dry and wet months, with monsoonal moisture in July and August helping the state to get through a difficult year.

“But it didn’t take care of our water supply issues, which are still very dire,” he said.

ENSO plume September 2022.

The immediate future doesn’t look all that promising either, heading into what is expected to be a third winter in a row of La Niña climate conditions, something Kanzer called a “triple-dip.”

La Niñas are associated with cooler surface water conditions in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. They tend to bring less winter moisture to the Southwest and more in the Northwest.

While there’s a lot of uncertainty about what to expect in the case of a rare “triple-dip” La Niña, federal Climate Prediction Center forecasts point to above-average odds of southern Colorado being in for below-normal precipitation through January, and odds leaning toward below-normal moisture for all of the state but northwestern Colorado between February and April. It’s looking like temperatures may be above normal in the state this fall and winter, too…According to a Natural Resources Conservation Service presentation prepared in September for the state Water Availability Task Force, the state’s precipitation was much improved thanks to the summer rains, but “the bulk of streamflow annual volume comes from seasonal mountain snowmelt, which was poor this year. Improvements from the monsoon this year (were) still only a smaller few drops in the bucket when considered as a total of the entire water year budget.”

Romancing the River: Colorado River Compact, Part 2 – Divide to Conquer — Sibley’s Rivers

The Colorado River Commission, in Santa Fe, in 1922.

Click the link to read the article on the Sibley’s Rivers website (George Sibley):

The last episode here ended with representatives of the seven Colorado River Basin states gathering in Washington, DC, as a commission charged, in the words of Herbert Hoover, U.S. Commerce Secretary and Chair of the Commission, ‘to consider and if possible to agree upon a compact between the seven states … providing for an equitable division of the water supply of the Colorado River and its tributaries amongst the seven states.’ He went on to note that ‘this Conference is unique in its attempt to determine states’ rights over so large an area by amiable agreement.’

That was in January 1922; in 2022 we commemorate the centennial of a compact created by the Commission and ratified by six of the seven states and the U.S. Congress, enabling the controlling and harnessing of the rambunctious Colorado River to commence. But this centennial comes in what is probably the worst year those depending on the Colorado River have ever experienced, at the end of the worst two consecutive decades for water in that century – or the past 12 centuries for that matter. ‘Drought’ has become a word of hope in the Southwest, because droughts end; most climatologists concur that the Southwest is mostly experiencing ‘aridification’ from climate change that is, for all practical purposes, permanent.

At the front end of that century, though, hopes were high that the use of the river’s water could be worked out so that, whatever major control structures were built on the river, favoring development by some over others, each state would be assured a share of the river’s water to develop in its own good time.

It is worth taking a moment to look at the seven commissioners and their chairman Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce. Four of the seven were State Engineers – W. F. McClure of California, Col. James Scrugham of Nevada, R.E. Caldwell of Utah, and Frank C. Emerson of Wyoming. Of the other three, Colorado’s Delph Carpenter was a water attorney, the Hon. Stephen B. Davis, Jr. of New Mexico was a judge, and W. S. Norviel was Arizona’s State Water Commissioner. 

Chairman Hoover was also an engineer by training, with considerable experience globally. One might wonder why the Commerce Secretary was chosen as the federal representative rather than the Interior Secretary, but Hoover was actually asked to handle the task by Interior Secretary Albert Fall. Given his interest in such matters, one suspects Hoover might have invited the invitation….

An interesting factoid about the commissioners is that none of them called the natural Colorado River Basin home, with the exception of Arizona’s Norviel, who lived and worked in Phoenix, part of the Gila River Basin which drains most of Arizona (when there is anything to drain) and joins the Colorado River down near its delta. The Gila’s flows, however, are not officially counted in the waters divided by the Compact. 

This ties in with another interesting factoid about the compact commission: none of the meeting to divide the use of the river’s waters were held within the river’s natural basin. The commissioners did make a trip through the basin in the summer of 1922, and held one public hearing on the river’s mainstem,in Grand Junction, Colorado; they also visited potential dam sites in the river’s lower canyon region. But basically the river’s future was decided in semi-closed meetings outside of the river’s natural basin – mostly in cities where eventually quite a bit of the river’s water went in tunnels and canals. One is reminded of the old political saying: If you aren’t at the table, you are on the menu.

Transcripts of all the Compact Commission meetings are available online, on the Western Water Assessment ‘Resources’ pages at the University of Colorado website  (https://wwa.colorado.edu/resources/colorado-river-resources) and are interesting to read. 

The commissioners began their work with seven January meetings in Washington, jumping right into discussion of the equitable division of the river’s waters. Some of the commissioners thought that the best way to try to allocate the river’s waters was on the basis of irrigable land in each state: how many acres of land could be irrigated in each state? Others thought it had to be based the amount of water each state would need to irrigate agricultural land – a quantity that increased with decreasing altitude and latitude due to evaporation. Colorado’s representative Delph Carpenter claimed that it was not necessary to set limits on the headwaters states; if they developed everything evelopable as fast as possible, nature would limit them before they’d used more than a large fraction of the water, allowing most of it to go on downstream.  

They asked the Bureau of Reclamation and the state engineers (including those not already on the commission) for data on existing and potentially irrigable acreage in each state. That information was compiled by the sixth meeting that week in Washington, and it proved – interesting.

The Bureau estimated that the seven states plus Mexico already had 2.65 million acres of land under irrigation, with another 4.27 million that could be irrigated, for a potential total of 6.92 million acres. Calculating consumptive use of water to irrigate all of that acreage came to 17.45 million acre-feet (maf) – conveniently right on the mark of 17.3 maf, the 20-year average flow of the Colorado River as roughly measured at a Yuma gauge.

But that chart was countered with one presenting the state’s estimates of how much land they had left to develop agriculturally. Their estimate of existing acreage under irrigation was more or less in the same ballpark as the Bureau’s estimate – 2.95 million acres compared to 2.65 million. But their estimates for irrigable land yet to be developed in the future was a lot more optimistic than the Bureau’s – 7.81 million acres, close to twice the Bureau’s estimate. That much land under irrigation would have consumed 23.71 maf of water annually – a third more than the estimates of the river’s flow from the Yuma gauge.

The transcripts of the meetings don’t note thoughtful silences, but the presentation of those numbers must have precipitated one. Wyoming’s state engineer Frank Emerson then said that his state would probably accept the Bureau’s estimate if the other states would do the same. But Wyoming’s future estimate was only 37,000 acres higher than the Bureau’s; most of the others were two to four times the Bureau estimates, so none of the other states wanted to follow Wyoming’s example.

A note on the Bureau’s set of figures cautions that ‘all data involve estimation in varying degrees.’ Some of the degrees of estimation may have involved the aforementioned ‘Hassayampa microbe,’ then still pervasive in the waters of the River of Color, causing the drinkers to ‘no more see fact as naked fact, but all radiant with the color of romance.’ There was unquestionably a lot of the enthusiasm and optimism that colored the early 20th century, the age of the ‘can-do’ engineer, the dawn of the Anthropocene Epoch when we would ‘rationalize’ nature.

At the last meeting in Washington, the day after the presentation of the data, the commissioners considered ideas for either adjusting the data to fit the river, or collecting more, and more accurate, data, or just proceeding in development for 20 years or so and seeing if there was need then for a compact (Arizona’s idea). Delph Carpenter of Colorado believed that if every state limited itself to developing half of the water in their state, then there would be no problem with in-state development and plenty of water going on to downstream states. The downstream states disliked that idea.

Nevada’s engineer James Scrugham finally lost patience with the whole process, registering a protest against the idea that the function of the commission was to work up the technical data: ‘We are here,’ he said,’ to formulate a broad constructive policy for development which necessitates breadth of view and team work in action. I am opposed to the policy of spending several months time in getting information on small details.’

Toward the end of that seventh meeting, several members wondered if there was any reason to continue with further meetings. Hoover, seeing his vision of great engineering solutions being buried under the unknowable details of the future, practically pleaded with the commissioners: ‘It would seem a great misfortune if we dissolved the Commission without at least agreeing upon so primary a necessity as a control reservoir.’ He echoed Scrugham’s observation: ‘We ought not to let this meeting break up without bringing in a broad visioned constructive plan in general terms so as to advance the whole subject, at the same time not asking anyone to commit himself as to water division.’

The seven commissioners weren’t able to achieve that ‘broad constructive policy for development,’ but they agreed to reconvene after a couple months of discussion with people in their home states. 

Hoover reconvened them in March for three weeks of public engagement around the Colorado River region – an adventure that began with public hearings and a commission meeting in Phoenix in mid-March, then to the village of Las Vegas and the canyon country to look at possible dam sites, then on to hearings in Los Angeles, then to Salt Lake City, and over into the upper river region for hearings in Grand Junction, then on to Denver for both hearings and a short commission meeting, and finally up to Cheyenne for hearings in early April.

During this period there were, as one would expect, informal discussions about their charge, and a new idea for dividing the use of the river’s waters emerged from the upper basin state commissioners: rather than pursuing the apparent ‘mission impossible’ of an equitable division according to irrigable land in each state, they might utilize a natural division in the river basin – the canyon region between the developing lands in the mountains and piedmont above the canyon, and the developing lands in the deserts below the canyon – to divide the use of the water equitably between the states above the canyons and the states below the canyons.

Chairman Hoover finally managed to reassemble the Compact Commission in November, to ‘do or die’ – do a compact or let the idea die. At the upscale resort of Bishop’s Lodge near Santa Fe – comped by the owner, a Denver developer – the commissioners participated, along with an ever-changing supporting cast of state governors, engineers, and Bureau of Reclamation officials, in an intensive charette of 18 meetings in 11 days, and created a Colorado River Compact that reflected the stress of working fast under their one-year deadline.

Commissioners Carpenter of Colorado and Caldwell of Utah brought up the concept of dividing the river basin into two basins: a four-state Upper Basin above the canyon region, and a three-state Lower Basin below the canyons, with each getting half of the river for its consumptive use. Considerable discussion followed with commissioners who thought it was an evasion of their charge to come up with an equitable division of the waters among the seven states – even though eventually all the commissioners, polled one by one by the Chair, agreed that they did not have enough knowledge for what Utah’s Caldwell called ‘the necessity of determining with exactitude the needs of the various and sundry states.’ The seven-state division acceptable to all was truly a ‘mission impossible.’ 

This two-basin division concept enabled them to proceed with a compact that five of the states accepted with no major reservations. California was happy with it because it achieved Scrugman’s and Hoover’s objective of creating ‘a broad constructive policy for development’ that would allow the federal government to proceed with Hoover’s vision of a big dam. The four Upper Basin states were happy because it gave them half the river’s water to develop in their own time, irrespective of what happened in California.

Arizona, however, was not happy with the concept. The Arizonans weren’t just envious of California’s fast growth; they wanted the same for themselves, and wanted enough water available to have it. And while the Upper Basin states were assured of no competition from the ‘800-pound gorilla’ downstream, the two-basin division put Arizona in the cage with the 800-pound gorilla. Their commissioner W.S. Norviel became a contrary presence in the meetings, undoubtedly pushed from behind by Arizona’s governor – a frequent onlooker at the Santa Fe meetings – and other forces at work in that desert state. 

Nevada was in the same situation – in the cage with California – but there was practically nothing going on in Southern Nevada where the Colorado River touched the state. Commissioner Scrugham was based in Carson City in western Nevada, and more involved with development of the streams flowing off of the Sierras, to gradually disappear in the Great Basin. In the Washington meetings attempting the seven-state division based on acreages, the Bureau had estimated that Nevada had only 2,000 irrigable acres, while Scrugman had typically estimated on the high side: 82,000 acres. But even that was a pittance compared to the hundreds of thousands and millions of acres in the other six states’ estimates. Scrugham appeared contented that southern Nevada would benefit regardless if a big dam were built practically in its backyard.

That was the situation when the commissioners sat down in the hills above Santa Fe, far from the Colorado River itself, to negotiate the river’s future. ‘I think for a practical matter,’ said Caldwell of Utah, ‘we are almost making two rivers out of one in the Colorado River, to meet a practical situation.’

Next post, we will look at the compact they managed to come up with in those eleven days: an interstate agreement that, like Justice Holmes’ ‘wonderful one-hoss shay,’ has lasted one hundred years to the day – a compact that became the shaky infrastructure for a massive array of physical, political and legal structures laid over the Colorado River region that are currently showing serious cracks – not from the ‘drought’ alone….

The Free Agent Beaver: Environmentalists and journalists tend to describe beavers in the ways they benefit humans. It’s time to change that perception of nature — The Revelator

Beaver. Photo credit: Oregon State University

Click the link to read the article on The Revelator website (Adam Burnett and Debra Merskin):

Beavers are having a moment. After being hunted to near extinction, they’ve steadily made a comeback, and today both the scientific community and the public have become increasingly aware and appreciative of their profound influence on habitat.

But as environmentalists, journalists and others praise beavers and expound upon their many planet-saving virtues, a problem has emerged: Beavers are too often seen as a tool for humans, rather than animals with their own agency and agenda.

Even those of us who are closely involved with beavers through conservation organizations or habitat restoration have long defaulted to an innate personification of beavers, unfailingly objectifying them and the “ecosystem services they provide.” How many times have you read or said that beaver activities restore watershed health, provide wildfire breaks and refuges, regulate stream flows, and stabilize the water table?

That’s all true, of course. But at the same time, the inference that they’re doing it for anyone but themselves creates an imbalance, an unrealistic expectation of a species that has no interest in the issues of humans.

Beavers are not beholden to the human-caused issues of our planet, and it’s time to adjust our language to reflect that simple but profound fact.

A simple substitution of vernacular, conceptualization and attitudes toward beavers and their natural behavior is vital to creating a well-rounded understanding of the natural processes of wildlife. Endless messages — perpetuated by well-meaning journalists and others — of giving beavers a “role” or “putting beavers to work” can be explained more accurately by “attracting them to locations where they might be naturally successful.” Rather than creating a “collaboration” or “partnership” with beavers, we are simply attempting to “support beaver success” and “restore conditions needed for ecological success.”

The personification of beavers is understandable — and to a certain extent, it’s been useful. Beavers possess natural skills that the Army Corp of Engineers would envy, so the language of “utilizing,” “partnering” and “collaborating” with beavers has served as a vital bridge, as well as connecting us back to a pathway of Indigenous knowledge.

But this also perpetuates a destructive one-to-one relationship with the natural world. “What can it do for me?” has been the guiding question, instead of “How can I be a valuable part of interspecies connectedness?”

A gentle, intentional and more precise reshaping of language around beavers, and nature as whole, could help reconnect us with the origin of our knowledge of interspecies living — recognizing we are not at the “top,” and that human supremacy is a myth.

For those of us who are “beaver believers,” this is incredibly important — to signal through language a path forward in our work, where we work in relationship with natural systems.

Words matter. By placing ourselves side by side with beavers and other species, we can help cultivate and activate a gentle tidal wave that will influence our research, and our relationship to one another and the natural world — and ultimately help restore the natural balance. When we stop seeing and talking about beavers as tools and partners, and instead treat them as free agents with their own agenda completely unrelated to humans, we can collectively transition to the next phase in our conservation effort. We can reach a point where nature is not hierarchically divided in a Linnaean system but recognized as a dynamic organism in concert with itself.

he opinions expressed above are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The Revelator, the Center for Biological Diversity or their employees.

A beaver dam on the Gunnison River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism